For nearly a decade, emo trio Rainer Maria functioned like clockwork: Starting in 1997, the band would release a nine-song album on Polyvinyl Records every two years, then they would tour their asses off, winning thousands of fans through their poetic lyrics, intense melodies and fiery interplay between vocalist/bassist Caithlin De Marrais and vocalist/guitarist Kaia Fischer (at the time known as Kyle). The two were a couple, at least at the start of the band’s run; they later broke up, but kept the band going, creating their most caustic record yet, 2003’s Long Knives Drawn.
Then, the band made a strange pivot, signing with upstart label Grunion Records, created by Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch, co-founders of Q Prime, better known as the managers of Metallica. The resulting album, 2006’s Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, was the first music the trio had ever released without the Polyvinyl logo on the back cover, and the first full-length in their catalog to be more than nine songs long. As the underground emo scene mutated into something more palatable for younger audiences, the band was thrown out on tours supporting nü-emo groups like Coheed And Cambria, the Format and Copeland, playing to disinterested teens. Even though Catastrophe was an incredibly underrated album, it’s no surprise the band ran out of gas later that year and broke up.
Now, Rainer Maria—De Marrais, Fischer and drummer Bill Kuehn—are back with their first new music in 11 years. Fittingly, the album is self-titled, marking a new beginning for the power trio. And really, the best compliment it can be given is that it doesn’t sound like the band took a decade-long hiatus: S/T’s songs feel as natural as anything else in the band’s catalog, from the slow-burn of opening track “Broke Open Love” (complete with a rubberband bassline) to the push and pull between minor and major keys in “Forest Mattress” to the howled chorus of “Lower Worlds,” which finds both De Marrais and Fischer trying their hand at yelling, “Slam shut!/The doors!”
A lot of this self-titled effort feels musically tied to Long Knives Drawn, in that the songs are less pop-oriented and contain a heavy amount of musical distortion and vocal aggression. Even songs that start off somewhat delicate, like “Blackbird” or “Possession,” quickly ratchet up the intensity and grunginess. De Marrais’ vocals power through thick layers of high gain guitar lines on “Communicator,” refusing to let her anger be silenced.
As has been the case with the previous two Rainer Maria albums, Fischer does not sing lead anywhere on S/T, instead only providing occasional backing vocals. Given all that has taken place in her life in recent years, coupled with the outstanding musical results from other transgender artists, it is a slight letdown that she chose not to contribute any songs to the band’s return. It would be a wonderful bonus if she rediscovered her songwriting voice on the trio’s next LP — most likely coming in two years, and most likely being nine songs long.